Lens on History: Vaudeville comes to Main Street

February 27, 2019
The Lawler Theatre at 221 S. Main St., originally known as the B. B. Theatre, opened in 1916 and closed in 1985. It was torn down in 1988.

Rochester’s newest playhouse, known as the B. B. Theatre, opened on Sept. 30, 1916. Built for live theater and vaudeville, the 550-seat auditorium could also be converted to view motion pictures.

Rochester businessman Martin C. Lawler spent $50,000 on the building, at 221 S. Main St., ensuring that it was Rochester’s finest theater and that the structure was absolutely fireproof, a good thing because of the highly flammable nature of early motion picture film.

By the late teens, vaudeville was dying and the focus was turned to movies. That’s when the B. B. became known as the Lawler Theatre.

In 1985, Rochester’s oldest movie house and the last of the downtown theaters closed without fanfare, an unprofitable relic of the past. On Sept. 22, 1988, after preservationists’ efforts failed to save the once-elegant movie house, the Lawler Theatre was reduced to a 17-car parking lot for First Bank.